Sibal returns empty-handed from Dhaka

Vol 7, PW 4 (07 May 03) People & Policy

IT WAS a wasted trip to Dhaka for Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

On 29th April he travelled to Bangladesh to meet his counterpart Shamsher Mobin Choudhury ahead of an Indo-Bangladesh Joint Business Council meeting next month. Natural gas dominated the talks.

A source present tells PETROWATCH that Sibal asked Choudhury if Bangladesh was likely to take any "concrete decision" on gas exports given that several Bangladeshi experts have recently begun recommending "limited exports". He also asked whether Bangladesh would allow the proposed Myanmar-India gas pipeline to transit its territory and whether Bangladesh was aware of the major gas finds in India and of possibilities of LNG imports from West Asia.

"Now is the time for you to take a concrete decision on this issue," Sibal told Choudhury. "Once we realise we will not get gas from Bangladesh, we willsource our needs from elsewhere and you will lose the only really viable market for your gas." What did Choudhury say "He was ambivalent," says our source, who quotes Choudhury saying: "You understand it is a political issue.

Such issues in our region are not always decided on economic merit but on political considerations." To which Sibal replied: "I know that only too well. Things are not very different in my country either." On his return to India, Sibal stopped over at Kolkata to brief West Bengal chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya about his Dhaka meeting.

Bhattacharya is keen to get Bangladesh gas but what he heard was disappointing. "What Sibal told me cannot make me happy," Bhattacharya tells PETROWATCH.

"Gasfields in southern or western India are too far away. Bangladesh is next door and their gas could make a difference to West Bengal.

But there is too much politics with gas in that country."

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